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How Muslims understand Islam significantly affects their countries' politics and economies

People's religious views matter. How they understand Islam may lead them to build a successful free country, or lead them to destroy their country.


Posted 12 December 2017. Updated 28 October 2018.

Looked at overall, Muslim majority countries (see the membership of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation for a list) suffer from many problems. In my view the most important are limited economic, political, and religious liberty.

I have previously written about "Why are Muslim majority countries more corrupt?"

The Istanbul Network for Liberty (now called the Islam & Liberty Network) was founded in Istanbul in 2011, as a group of think tank leaders from Muslim majority countries who are dedicated to advance universal human values such as liberty, peace, tolerance, respect, integrity, and equality under the law among the world’s Muslim communities.

When I learned of its existence, I immediately became supportive.

Many of its people were contributors to the Institute of Economic Affairs publication "Islamic Foundations of a Free Society" and I helped by reviewing an early draft of that book. On 15 May 2017 I spoke at a panel event about the book which can be listened to at the linked page.

On 28 July 2017 the Istanbul Network's website published my first written contribution. I used that to make the overarching point that one cannot address the economic and political challenges of Muslim majority countries while ignoring the question of how their citizens think about Islam.

You can read it below.

Becoming a columnist for the Istanbul Network for Liberty

I was recently surprised to receive an unsolicited invitation to become a columnist for the Istanbul Network. Having accepted, I am using this first column to introduce myself as readers are entitled to know “where I am coming from.”

Like many things in life, my connection with the Istanbul Network arose from pure chance.

In June 2015, I attended a conference organised jointly by Conservative Home, The Institute of Economic Affairs, the Taxpayers Alliance and Business for Britain. This was held to discuss possible priorities for the Conservative government which had just won the May 2015 British general election.

I was sitting next to a lady who was a complete stranger, and started chatting as is my habit with all strangers that I meet in such situations. She turned out to be Linda Whetstone, who is a Council Member of the Istanbul Network. As we chatted, Linda mentioned Wan Saiful Wan Jan (the Council Chairman) who I have known for over 10 years as he used to live in the UK and was on the Executive Committee of the Conservative Muslim Forum (affiliated to the British Conservative Party) which I now chair.

The “About Me” page of my personal website contains a detailed personal profile. Very briefly, I was born in Pakistan but have lived in the UK since the age of 1 ¾. Now aged 66, I retired seven years ago from being a tax partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and the firm’s UK Head of Islamic Finance. Despite being raised in a Muslim family, I paid relatively little attention to studying Islam in any depth until I went on Hajj in 2002. Since then I have been reading about it quite extensively (solely in English as I am monolingual in the best British tradition) and for over 10 years I have been writing about aspects of Islam amongst other topics.

I believe that it is impossible to address the social, political, economic and legal needs of Muslim majority countries without also addressing how their people understand Islam. I see three broad reasons for this.

I will be addressing specific issues in future columns.

However, as suggested by my comments above, I have a straightforward position on who is a Muslim – namely anyone who professes to be a Muslim.

Accordingly, in my view, terrorists such as ISIS and Al Qaeda are clearly Muslims acting on their understanding of Islam just as much as I am a Muslim acting on my understanding of Islam. This does not mean that I consider all understandings or interpretations of Islam as being equally valid. I consider that I am right and they are wrong. If I did not think that I was right, then I would change my views to adopt those views I did consider were right.

Subsequent development

Since the piece was published, I have accepted an invitation to join the Council of the Istanbul Network for Liberty, further evidencing my view of the importance of its work.

To change the world, you need to change how people think. That is what the organisation aims to do.


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